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Nuclear club hopping: Opinion

US President George W. Bush sketched what amounted to a new international regime on nuclear technology in his speech. That the present system is in desperate need of reform is hardly in dispute.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2004 10:55 IST
PTI

US President George W. Bush sketched what amounted to a new international regime on nuclear technology in his Wednesday speech. That the present system is in desperate need of reform is hardly in dispute.

Even before the confessions of Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, it was clear the clauses of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) had long ceased to have any relevance to global nuclear reality. The NPT refused to accept three nuclear powers — India, Pakistan and Israel. It was incapable of stopping countries with civilian nuclear programmes from diverting that technology to build weapons. And it is useless when it comes to stopping nuclear technology from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The first major pillar of Mr Bush’s nuclear order is that nuclear legitimacy should be granted to any country that already possesses a full nuclear cycle. India can only welcome this expansion of the nuclear club — even if it includes Pakistan. New Delhi had long argued the NPT was discriminatory. But the treaty’s greater crime was to be unrealistic. A nuclear fuel cycle club makes much more sense. Urging that the Nuclear Suppliers Group consider providing technology to the expanded club is also in line with India’s long-standing demands. But there are still some concerns for India. A key one is Mr Bush’s statement on the Additional Protocol of the NPT. He says, “I propose, by next year, only States [that] have signed the Additional Protocol be allowed to import equipment for their civilian nuclear programme.” India has so far kept away from the protocol because it would open its civilian nuclear facilities to United Nations monitors. On the other hand, Bush is committed to rolling back US sanctions on India in the so-called ‘quartet’ issues — one of which is civilian nuclear technology.

Mr Bush’s policy strokes were too broad for it to be certain this seeming contradiction will trouble India-US relations. It is unclear, for example, whether signing the protocol will be required of the new nuclear club. The details of big canvas strategic speeches are often worked out later. In addition, as indicated by National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra’s recent Munich speech, India is no longer as averse to joining a non-proliferation treaty regime so long as it is nondiscriminatory.